Doctor Strange (2016)

doctor-strange-2016-poster-impossibilities

A visual treat; this new instalment to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe looks absolutely fantastic, it’s just another expected formulaic tread in the well established world of comic book heroes and origin stories.

After a humongous car crash, top neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) hopes to find a cure to his nerve damaged hands. He travels to Kamar-Taj in Nepal seeking help from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who helps Strange learn powers and manipulation of worlds. Strange must learn fast as former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who wants to know more about the rituals of the Ancient One and bring a ruler of a dark dimension to Earth.

Scott Derrickson certainly stays in keeping with the rest of the Marvel features, in that they all feel warm and welcoming, that sense of knowing what to expect when you sit down for an MCU film is both good and slightly weakening. On the plus side he ensures there’s a fluid feel to this outing but perhaps doesn’t dare to present the non-CGI moments in a different manner, one we’d not expect from a Marvel movie.

The only big problem sitting with this film is the story and that typical formula that most of these comic-book pictures have. The hero is one that quips and more than ever feels like a Tony Stark re-do. There is a villain in this movie, kind of two to be honest but both are nowhere near fleshed out or seen enough to feel any trepidation about them or their devious planning. If DC has one good thing over Marvel it’s their baddies. Also, the love interest like Pepper and Jane, is sort of tepid, doing little to push themselves out of the mould that they’re there as the romantic figure.

It may be felt that the story is strong and clever because of the timey-wimey stuff, big words and grandeur of spiritual enlightenment but in fact it’s a simple plot to follow that basically boils down to Strange discovering his inner powers and helping save the world from three different sanctums. Again, like Marvel adores aliens coming from the sky, this movie features just that which is little more than purple-y special effects.

Crediting the film and the effects team though, this movie looks so damn good. The ‘Inception’-esque warping of the world as we know it is taken to overdrive and gloriously so. There are moments that feel like we’re zooming into a kaleidoscope and times when lands shift and buildings twist that certainly do enough to give this movie a mind-melting appearance. I loved every scene where the CGI came to full power and it’s not normal for me to say that so they did everything perfectly right when it came to highlighting the surreal powers of Strange’s journey.

Cumberbatch may have got the shaping of hand gestures right and tugged nicely with a magical cloak but he’s still delivering that usual Benedict routine just with an American accent. Swinton felt right for me in her part, I know there was controversy but she gives the character a balanced knowledge and hidden power in a calm and believable way. Chiwetel Ejiofor was a great addition, trying to stick to the mantra of what he knows and teaching the arrogant Stephen what he once was taught. Mads Mikkelsen looked the part with superb make-up and has that usual menacing posture and stare but it’s the writing that let him down, not his performance. Rachel McAdams too, is let down by a mildly dull character.

Though this doesn’t stray too far from the formula that Marvel seem scared of breaking, it’s entertaining nonetheless packed to the rafters with hair-raising spectacles of CGI and a neat air of fun that keeps everything ticking over as the MCU conjure up so well.

7/10

 

Advertisements

The Little Prince (2016)

the-little-prince-poster02

Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10

Spotlight (2016)

20104185723_0ca6c3e963_o

Delicately handled considering the subject matter, this biographical film balances the story between the seekers of truth and the victims in a great way. It’s a movie that pulls you in by being interesting and giving enough time to the key characters that we understand all motives at play. I can really see why this is up for Best Picture and why it might win.

At the Boston Globe, a small group of 4 journalists called ‘Spotlight’ take their time in documenting big stories. After new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives, he suggest they look deeper into the allegations of perversion and molestation of children from priests in the Catholic Church. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) wants his team to do it right so they trawl through files and reports uncovering a shocking statistic.

There’s never a moment in this film where it feels slow, even when briefings or meetings occur it all feels right for the story and therefore keeps the bubbling pace of this plot going nicely. It’s a film with something always around the corner and you want to find out what that is. Also, this film never comes across forced to seem more interesting or explosively damaging to the Church. It’s done with a calmness in the way the Spotlight team meticulously go over findings and try to help victims come forward. This movie could easily have been terrible if the four journalists were more dynamic for the sake of cinematic entertainment or if the whole uncovering was twisted in a more typically dramatic way, but gladly the film knows it’s dealing with a tough issue and focuses on the subtle moments building to the findings they make.

Tom McCarthy does a great job in firstly letting us buy into the film’s people and see their understanding of what’s happening slowly hit them. Secondly he does a greater job in reversing away from panned Adam Sandler flick ‘The Cobbler’ to prove directors need second chances. One of the good things here is that McCarthy still weaves a gripping dramatic tale even though the trailer gave us the knowledge of what’s to come. So a movie that has no true mystery left but is still overly engaging and thoughtful is one that must be seen and I’m glad I have.

McCarthy wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer and the two of them; like the Spotlight foursome are a great unison of harmony and talent. The story is done really well, they don’t make the journalists into heroes, in fact we learn hard truths about them. They don’t write harsh pot-shots at faith or the Church but more at the necessary problem of the system failing time and time again. It’s a narrative with no unneeded embellishments and that’s an admirable quality to look upon.

It’s a film that has to be seen, the true danger of the priests and their constant replacements is unbelievable. The lasting feeling this film gives is of overwhelming shock at the amount of locations listed and with this, there’s a feeling of laughable madness in a certain figure’s new position. It’s more than scary to think what’s being gotten away with and therefore this is a movie that must exist to shine a spotlight on what many people know but turn away from.

Michael Keaton is fantastic, toning his performance with direction and leadership, there’s a constant presence of damaged knowing to his character that comes into fruition later on. Mark Ruffalo transforms into his role, leaving Bruce Banner behind as he becomes the workaholic and fiery Michael Rezendes. It’s clear to see why he was nominated for Best Actor because he does bury his teeth into the character and give passion to the project. Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer is gently reserved but bold in looking like she wants to do this story right. She brings compassion and morals to the piece. Brian d’Arcy James is magnificent also, not one of the four feels shaded or left with no meat on the bones so to speak. James does really well in showing his worried character and the home-life he faces with danger on the doorstep.

For me, this feature should win Best Picture, I’d give it to Room if I could. but in all likelihood I’d root for this excellent portrayal of character development and detailed professionalism concerning an absorbing and worrying subject matter.

8/10